AKRON, OHIO — An Akron-based polymer science group unveiled plans for new PVC research at the World Vinyl Forum last week as the industry's lack of scientific innovation in recent years came under attack.
Edison Polymer Innovation Corp., a public/private group working with the University of Akron and Cleveland's Case Western Reserve University, announced plans to develop rigid PVC with improved heat distortion, impact strength and processability and flexible PVC with better heat aging and oil resistance.
``We need PVCs that are outside the normal properties we're used to,'' said Chuck Wilkes, EPIC's operations director. ``Polyolefins have undergone a revolution with metallocenes but PVC has been on a plateau because it's a very mature material. It needs serious growth to be attractive and viable.''
Wilkes hopes that attraction and viability will draw the corporate sponsorship needed to make the project a reality. The group plans to meet with sponsors next month.
EPIC's plans would seem to be a step in the right direction, since the vinyl industry's lack of research and development was criticized during the forum.
``Problems in vinyl development remain to be solved and reasonable solutions have been identified,'' said William Starnes Jr., a chemistry professor at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Va. ``But interest and support has been dismally lacking.''
Starnes, who identified smoke suppression and fire retardancy as areas for potential research, added the lack of interest has been in contradiction to vinyl's commercial importance.
The need to defend itself from public claims against the safety of the product has forced vinyl businesses to take resources away from R&D, according to Robert Brookman, president of Colorite Polymers, a PVC compounder based in Ridgefield, N.J.
``We can make more fire-retardant fibers and improve PVC for packaging, but there are more people in our organizations who are devoted to environmental and regulatory matters than to R&D,'' said Brookman, who also described the industry's environmentalist detractors as ``the paparazzi to the PVC industry.''
William Patient, president, and chief executive officer of Geon Co. in Avon Lake, Ohio, agreed that the need for research is a challenge the industry must meet.
``It's hard to invest in something that pays off years from now instead of quarters from now, but without new product advancement, we're choking off our future,'' Patient said. ``How do we expect to be a leading material when the core of our product line was developed when the Beatles were still together?''